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SOS Rhino : In the News : Global forest jewel in Northeast

Global forest jewel in Northeast

The Telegraph
Calcutta, India

Guwahati, Feb. 24: The Northeast has the second richest forest reserve in the world in terms of plant diversity, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has revealed after an extensive study.

The area surveyed by the WWF is called the North Bank Landscape, spanning 3,000 sq. km of the Himalayan foothills north of the Brahmaputra river in Assam and parts of Arunachal Pradesh, north Bengal and Bhutan.

"Preliminary results indicate that the North Bank Landscape may be surpassed only by the Sumatran forests in Indonesia, thus making it the second richest centre of plant diversity in the world," the WWF said in its report, which was released during the centenary celebrations of Kaziranga National Park this month.

All 3,000 sq. km of forests were subjected to a "rapid appraisal" under the Asian Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy programme of the WWF. The surveyors found an extraordinary number of plant species, 107, in a single 200-square metre plot.

The WWF is convinced the richness of the forests in the area is higher than similar lowland forests in other biodiversity hotspots like Brazil, Cameroon, New Guinea and Peru. The survey data was compared with that collected using the same recording protocol in 20 other countries.

The study was co-ordinated by WWF-India and the WWF Asian Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy (AREAS) project in association with the Centre for Biodiversity Management, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Zoological Park and the Conservation Research Centre with additional funding by the MacArthur Foundation.

In December 2003, two teams from four Indian institutions undertook an initial survey within the eastern Himalayas, including the proposed KaSoPaNa reserve, comprising the Kameng-Sonitpur, Pakke and Nameri forests on the Assam-Arunachal border.

Andrew Gillison, the author of the report and head of the Centre for Biodiversity Management, described the North Bank Landscape as "extraordinary" and a "jewel in the crown of Indian forests".

The crown, however, comes with a warning.

"Uncontrolled exploitation of forests and eviction of large mammals is clearly impacting both plant and animal habitats -- a situation that is unlikely to improve with increasing elephant-human competition for common resources. Appropriate policy intervention at national and international levels is urgently needed to establish a regional framework for ensuring human livelihood and balanced conservation management," the WWF report said.

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